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From garbage to the grid: How the Ada County Landfill turns harmful methane gas into electricity

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 03, 2024

FOOTHILLS, Idaho — Decomposing trash creates harmful methane gas, the Ada County Landfill collects that harmful gas and turns it into electricity. The Landfill Gas to Energy Program creates enough energy in a year to power two to three thousand homes through the Idaho Power Grid.

  • Methane gas, if not collected, can have a large impact on the environment.
  • The Ada County Landfill is in the process of building a renewable natural gas plant that will offer another option for utilizing landfill gas in a renewable way.

(Below is the transcript from the broadcast story)

"When any waste is deposited in the landfill, specifically organic waste, It's going to start to break down over time," says Dylan Potter, the environmental compliance manager for the Ada County Landfill.

"As it breaks down it's going to be releasing methane when it's in a low oxygen environment so that's an anaerobic decomposition," says Potter.

He tells me that methane gas has a major impact on the environment.

"Methane, which is the primary component of landfill gas that we're concerned about, is 28 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So when that's released it's contributing to global warming, climate change but there are also other compounds in there that can harm local air quality and create smog," added Potter.

To combat that impact, the landfill has a series of vacuum wells that collect as much of that harmful gas as possible.

"So this is one of our landfill gas extraction wells, it's tied in to the vacuum line which goes down there to a big 18 inch pipe that runs all the way along this road," says Potter

There are 439 of those wells strategically placed across the landfill.

"This is where all the landfill gas that is generated in the landfill gets pulled down to and either destructed in the flares or taken to the generators to generate energy," says Potter.

"Methane is flammable, combustible, it can be run into these engines and combusted the same as a any other fuel source, gasoline, diesel, in this case it's landfill gas that's being combusted to power generators to produce electricity," says Potter.

These generators produce about 22-million kilowatt-hours a year from burning that gas, which essentially correlates to powering two to three thousand homes through the Idaho Power Grid.

"We are turning this product, you know, this inevitable creation of the landfill, landfill gas that could be potentially harmful, or at best a neutral product, and making it beneficial," says Potter.

The Ada County Landfill is also in the process of building a renewable natural gas plant.

"That facility is going to take our Landfill gas and rather than turn it into energy they're going to refine it into a pipeline quality natural gas," added Potter.